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Amazon plotting registrar workaround?

Amazon has given an early hint at how it may manage its new gTLD registries.

The company seems to be planning to make its own web site the place to go to for its new gTLD domains, relegating registrars to secondary players in the sales path.

It also seems to be planning to up-sell registrants with services, possibly including hosting, before they even get to the registrar’s storefront.

Amazon has filed a Registry Services Evaluation Process request with ICANN, relating to its gTLD .moi (French for “.me”) covering a “Registration Authentication Platform”.

.moi isn’t a brand, but Amazon says it plans to verify registrant “eligibility” before allowing a registration to take place.

To date, it has not revealed what the eligibility requirements for .moi are.

Its RSEP filing says that it intends to offer registrants a suite of optional add-on “technology tools or applications” at the point of verification.

Crucially, that’s before they get bounced to their registrar of choice to actually register the name.

Amazon is basically putting its up-sell pitch into the sales path before registrars get to do the same.

The RSEP explains it like this:

After the customer selects the Technology Tools of interest and/or ancillary products or services (if any), the customer will select its registrar of choice from among the complete list of .MOI-accredited registrars and be directed to that registrar’s site to permit that registrar to collect the required registrant information for the domain name registration, and to submit payment for the selected .MOI domain name. Upon completion of these steps, the registrar, through the normal EPP processes, shall transmit the required registration information to the Registry and the .MOI domain name shall be registered. A customer that first visits a .MOI-accredited registrar’s website will be directed to the Registry’s .MOI website to undergo the process noted above. After pre-registration policy verification, those customers will be transitioned back to the originating registrar’s site.

The RSEP does not explain what the “technology tools” are, but I’d be very surprised if they did not include for example web hosting, a staple higher-margin registrar product.

It’s not entirely clear what, if any, consultations Amazon has had with registrars regarding its proposals. The RSEP language is evasive:

Amazon Registry reached out to several registrars to have general discussions about their experience with pre-registration policy verification and how that experience (including customer experience) could be improved. Any consultations that may have occurred regarding the Technology Tools and the ancillary products and services would have occurred subject to a Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement and cannot be disclosed.

Currently, the RSEP only covers .moi. Amazon would have to file additional RSEPs if it wanted the new service applied to its 32-TLD-strong portfolio, which includes the likes of .book, .song and .tunes.

ICANN has already made a preliminary determination that the RSEP “does not raise significant competition, security or stability issues”.

As usual, there’s a public comment period, which ends April 14.

Foot-dragging Amazon has bumper crop of new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 7, 2015, Domain Registries

Amazon Registry Services took possession of 17 new gTLDs at the weekend.

The would-be portfolio registry had .author, .book, .bot, .buy, .call, .circle, .fast, .got, .jot, .joy, .like, .pin, .read, .room, .safe, .smile and .zero delegated to the DNS root zone.

Amazon seems to have waited until the last possible moment to have the strings delegated.

It signed its registry agreements — which state the TLDs must be delegated with a year — in mid-December 2014.

Don’t plan on being able to register domains in any of these gTLDs. You may be disappointed.

All of the strings were originally applied for as what became known as “closed generics”, in which Amazon would have been the only permitted registrant.

It recanted this proposed policy in early 2014, formally amending its applications to avoid the Governmental Advisory Committee’s anti-closed-generic advice.

Its registry contracts do not have the standard dot-brand carve-outs.

However, the latest versions of its applications strongly suggest that registrant eligibility is going to be pretty tightly controlled.

The applications state: “The mission of the <.TLD> registry is: To provide a unique and dedicated platform while simultaneously protecting the integrity of Amazon’s brand and reputation.”

They go on to say:

Amazon intends to initially provision a relatively small number of domains in the .CIRCLE registry to support the goals of the TLD… Applications from eligible requestors for domains in the .CIRCLE registry will be considered by Amazon’s Intellectual Property group on a first come first served basis and allocated in line with the goals of the TLD.

They state “domains in our registry will be registered by Amazon and eligible trusted third parties”.

Amazon has not yet published its TLD start-up information, which may provide more clarity on how the company intends to handle these strings.

I suspect we’ll be looking at a policy that amounts to a workaround of the closed-generic ban.

The registry seems to be planning to run its registry from AmazonRegistry.com.

Panel throws out ludicrous .shop confusion ruling

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Registries

The new gTLD strings .shop and .通販 are not too confusingly similar-looking to coexist on the internet.

While that may be blindingly obvious to anyone who is not already blind, it’s taken the ICANN process three years to arrive at this conclusion.

An August 18 ruling by a three-person International Centre for Dispute Resolution appeals panel has “reversed, replaced and superseded” a two-year-old decision by a lone String Confusion Objection panelist. The appeals panel found:

the [original] expert panel could not have reasonably come to the decision reached by it in connection with the underlying String Confusion Objection

The two strings indisputably have no visual or aural similarity, are in different languages, written in different scripts that look very different, and have different phonetic spellings and pronunciations.

.通販 is the Japanese for “.onlineshopping”, applied for by Amazon in the 2012 new gTLD round.

.shop is a contested string applied for by Commercial Connect and others.

The two strings were ruled dissimilar by the String Similarity Panel in February 2013, but Commercial Connect filed the SCO a few weeks later.

In an SCO, the complainant must show that it is “probable, not merely possible” that the two strings will get mixed up by internet users.

In August 2013, ICDR panelist Robert Nau ignored that burden of proof and inexplicably ruled that the two strings were too similar to coexist and should therefore be placed in a contention set.

Nau would later rule that .shop and .shopping are also confusingly similar.

The .通販 decision was widely criticized for being completely mad.

Amazon appealed the decision via the ICANN Request for Reconsideration, but predictably lost.

After much lobbying, last October ICANN’s board of directors created an appeals process for SCO decisions, but limited the appellant pool to Amazon with .通販 and applicants for .cam (which had been ruled similar to .com).

Now, 10 months later, we finally have a sane decision in the Amazon case. Its application will presumably now be removed from the .shop contention set.

Read the final ruling here.

US Congresspeople tell ICANN to ignore GAC “interference”

Kevin Murphy, June 12, 2015, Domain Policy

A bispartisan group of US Congresspeople have called on ICANN to stop bowing to Governmental Advisory Committee meddling.

Showing characteristic chutzpah, the governmental body advises ICANN that advice from governments should be viewed less deferentially in future, lest the GAC gain too much power.

The members wrote (pdf):

Recent reports indicate that the GAC has sought to increase its power at the expense of the multistakeholder system. Although government engagement in Internet governance is prudent, we are concerned that allowing government interference threatens to undermine the multistakeholder system, increasing the risk of government capture of the ICANN Board.

The letter was signed by 11 members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, which is one of the House committees that most frequently hauls ICANN to Capitol Hill to explain itself.

Most of the signatories are from the Republican majority, but some are Democrats.

It’s not entirely clear where they draw the line between “engagement” and “interference”.

The letter highlights two specific pieces of GAC input that the signatories seem to believe constitute interference.

First, the GAC’s objection to Amazon’s application for .amazon. The letter says this objection came “without legal basis” and that ICANN “succumbed to political pressure” when it rejected the application.

In reality, the GAC’s advice was consensus advice as envisaged by the Application Guidebook rules. It was the US government that succumbed to political pressure, when it decided to keep its mouth shut and allow the rest of the GAC to reach consensus.

The one thing the GAC did wrong was filing its .amazon objection outside of the window envisaged by the Guidebook, but that’s true of almost every piece of advice it’s given about new gTLD applications.

Second, the Congresspeople are worried that the GAC has seized for its members the right to ban the two-letter code representing their country from any new gTLD of their choosing.

I’ve gone into some depth into how stupid and hypocritical this is before.

The letter says that it has “negative implications for speech and the world economy”, which probably has a grain of truth in it.

But does it cross the line from “engagement” to “interference”?

The Applicant Guidebook explicitly “initially reserved” all two-letter strings at the second level in all new gTLDs.

It goes on to say that they “may be released to the extent that Registry Operator reaches agreement with the government and country-code manager.”

While the rule is pointless and the current implementation convoluted, it comes as a result of the GAC engaging before the new gTLD program kicked off. It was something that all registries were aware of when they applied for their gTLDs.

However, the GAC’s more recent behavior on the two-letter domain subject has been incoherent and looks much more like meddling.

At the ICANN meeting in Los Angeles last October, faced with requests for two-character domains to be released, the GAC issued formal advice saying it was “not in a position to offer consensus advice on the use of two-character second level domain names”.

ICANN’s board of directors accordingly passed a resolution calling for a release mechanism to be developed by ICANN staff.

But by the time February ICANN meeting rolled around, it had emerged that registries’ release requests had been put on hold by ICANN due to letters from the GAC.

The GAC then used its Singapore communique to advise ICANN to “amend the current process… so that relevant governments can be alerted as requests are initiated.” It added that “Comments from relevant governments should be fully considered.”

ICANN interpreted “fully considered” to mean an effective veto, which has led to domains such as it.pizza and fr.domains being banned.

So it does look like thirteenth-hour interference but that’s largely because the GAC is often incapable of making its mind up, rarely talks in specifics, and doesn’t meet frequently enough to work within timelines set by the rest of the community.

However, while there’s undoubtedly harm from registries being messed around by the GAC recently, governments don’t seem to have given themselves any powers that they did not already have in the Applicant Guidebook.

Amazon staffing up for new gTLD launches

Kevin Murphy, January 30, 2015, Domain Registries

Amazon is one of the biggest portfolio applicants for new gTLDs, but to date we haven’t heard much from the e-commerce giant about how it intends to use its new assets.

That could change soon, however. The company is currently looking to bulk up its registry services staff, according to two job ads posted to DI Jobs today.

Amazon is looking for a Project Manager, Registry Services and a Sr. Software Development Manager, Registry Services to “help develop and launch innovative business models across Amazon’s new domain program.”.

Applicants will need to “see beyond DNS in its traditional function”, one of the ads intriguingly notes.

The project manager role is described as “a start-up opportunity with the backing of a larger organization”.

Amazon currently has 63 live new gTLD applications, of its original 76, 21 of which are currently in the final testing phase before delegation. Those include strings such as .buy, .read, .author and .like. Another 29 are in contracting with ICANN right now.

As .trust opens for sunrise, Artemis dumps .secure bid

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2014, Domain Registries

Amazon is now the proud owner of the .secure new gTLD, after much smaller competing applicant Artemis Internet withdrew its bid.

Coincidentally, the settlement of the contention set came just yesterday, the day before Artemis took its .trust — which I’ve described as a “backup plan” — to sunrise.

I assume .secure was settled with a private deal. I’ve long suspected Artemis — affiliated with data escrow provider NCC Group — had its work cut out to win an auction against Amazon.

It’s a shame, in a way. Artemis was one of the few new gTLD applicants that had actually sketched out plans for something quite technologically innovative.

Artemis’ .secure was to be a “trust mark” for a high-priced managed security service. It wasn’t really about selling domain names in volume at all.

The company had done a fair bit of outreach work, too. As long ago as July 2013, around 30 companies had expressed their interest in signing up as anchor tenants.

But, after ICANN gave Amazon a get-out-of-jail-free card by allowing it to amend its “closed generic” gTLD applications, it looked increasingly unlikely Artemis would wind up owning the gTLD it was essentially already pre-selling.

In February this year, it emerged that it had acquired the rights to .trust from Deutsche Post, which had applied for the gTLD unopposed.

This Plan B was realized today when .trust began its contractually mandated sunrise period.

Don’t expect many brands to apply for their names during sunrise, however — .trust’s standard registration policies are going to make cybersquatting non-existent.

Not only will .trust registrants have their identities manually vetted, but there’s also a hefty set of security standards — 123 pages (pdf) of them at the current count — that registrants will have to abide by on an ongoing basis in order to keep their names.

As for Amazon, its .secure application, as amended, is just as vague as all of its other former bids for closed, single-registrant generic strings (to the point where I often wonder if they’re basically still just closed generics).

It’s planning to deploy a small number of names to start with, managed by its own intellectually property department. After that, its application all gets a bit hand-wavey.

gTLD auctions net ICANN another $13m

Kevin Murphy, October 27, 2014, Domain Registries

ICANN has raised another $12.9 million from new gTLD auctions.

A small batch of three contention sets — .realty, .salon and .spot — were resolved last Wednesday in the third so-called “last resort” auction.

.realty went to Fegistry for $5,588,888, .salon to Donuts for $5,100,575 and .spot to Amazon for $2.2 million.

ICANN now has accumulated new gTLD auction sales totaling $27.8 million.

It raised $14.3 million selling off .buy, .tech and .vip in September. The auction for .信息 fetched $600,000 in June.

ICANN’s share — after auctioneer Power Auctions is paid off — is being put into a special fund, rather that ICANN’s current account. The community will one day have to decide what to spend it on.

Two new gTLD confusion decisions thrown out

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has reopened the contention sets for .cam and .通販 after deciding that two String Confusion Objection panels may have been wrong to reject certain applications.

Two rulings — that .cam is confusingly similar to .com and that .通販 is confusingly similar to .shop (really) — will now head to an appeals panel for a “final” determination.

The decision was made by the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee this week at the ICANN 51 public meeting in Los Angeles.

The first case being reopened for scrutiny is Verisign versus Rightside, where the original SCO panel found that .cam and .com were too similar to coexist on the internet.

But a different panelist found that the two strings were not confusingly similar in objections filed by Verisign against two other applicants — Dot Agency and AC Webconnecting.

The opposing rulings meant that Rightside’s application would have been kicked out of the .cam contention set, which hardly seems fair.

This and many other “perceived inconsistencies” led to the ICANN board being pressured to come up with some kind of appeals process, which it agreed to do in February.

Verisign, unfairly in my view, was not given the opportunity to appeal the two .cam decisions that went against it, even though they were made by the same panelist for the same reasons.

The second, altogether more peculiar, case was .shop applicant Commercial Connect versus .通販 applicant Amazon.

The panelist in that case seemed to have checked his brain at the door that day, concluding that the two strings are confusingly similar simply because 通販 means “online shopping” in Japanese.

Another panelist, in a different case also involving Commercial Connect, had found that .购物 (Chinese for “shopping”) was not confusingly similar to .shop because duh.

ICANN’s NGPC has now decided that the two controversial decisions are “not being in the best interest of the New gTLD Program and the Internet community”.

Both .cam and .通販 will now be referred to a three-person panel at the International Center for Dispute Resolution, the same body that processed the original objections, for a final determination.

.now and .realestate will be restricted, but Donuts keeps .tires open

Kevin Murphy, October 7, 2014, Domain Registries

It was a battle between open and restricted registration rules this week, as three more new gTLD contention sets were resolved between applicants with opposing policies.

Donuts won .tires (open), Amazon won .now (closed) and the National Association of Realtors won .realestate (restricted).

Donuts beat Goodyear and Bridgestone — two of the biggest tire companies in the world — to .tires. Both withdrew their respective applications over the last week.

If it was an auction it was not conducted via the usual new gTLD auction houses. It seems like Donuts settled the contention privately (or maybe just got lucky).

Both tire companies had proposed single-registrant closed generic spaces. Donuts, of course, has not.

Goodyear has active dot-brand applications for .goodyear and .dunlop remaining. Bridgestone has active applications for .bridgestone and .firestone, also dot-brands.

Amazon, meanwhile, won the .now contention set over five other applicants — Starbucks HK, XYZ.com, One.com, Global Top Level and Donuts, which have all withdrawn their bids.

Amazon’s application for .now envisages a closed registry in which all the second-level domains belong to the company’s intellectual property department.

Also this week, the NAR, which already has the dot-brand .realtor under its belt, beat Donuts, Minds + Machines and Uniregistry to the complementary generic .realestate.

Unfortunately for estate agents worldwide, the NAR plans a tightly restricted .realestate zone, in which only its own members will at first be able to register, according to its application.

The application does seem to envisage a time when others will be permitted to register, however.

The organization said in a press release this week that .realestate will be more open than .realtor, but that full policies will not be released until next year.

Donuts snatches four new gTLDs at auction, beating Amazon to .video

Kevin Murphy, September 23, 2014, Domain Registries

Donuts has emerged the victor from four new gTLD auctions this week, getting its hands on .money, .video, .sale and .legal.

Notably, Uniregistry, Minds + Machines and Amazon have withdrawn from the .video race, leaving Donuts the winner.

.video was one of the gTLDs Amazon had originally applied for as a “closed generic” that it intended to keep for itself and its affiliates. Now, it will be an open generic under Donuts.

Donuts also won .sale against Uniregistry, Dot-Sale and Famous Four.

Minds + Machines withdrew its .sale application in April 2013, before even Initial Evaluation.

Colombian applicant Primer Nivel, affiliated with My.co, withdrew its application for .legal, leaving Donuts the only remaining bidder, while Famous Four dropped out of the two-horse race for .money.

Meanwhile, dotCOOL has pulled its bid for .memorial, leaving applications from Afilias and Donuts still active. Presumably, one of these will withdraw later in the week.

As usual, winning bids have not been revealed.